Struggling alcohol sector pleads for lifting of ban on booze sales
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THE alcohol industry has called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to lift restrictions on the sale of alcohol, saying it cannot continue to endure a double pandemic of Covid-19 and poverty.
The National Liquor Traders (NTL), representing 39 000 township-based taverns, shebeens and bottle stores, wrote to Ramaphosa over the weekend pleading for the lifting of the ban.
The National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) met yesterday to assess developments in the Covid-19 pandemic and the national response to this challenge.
The Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance in SA (Saapa SA) urged the government to allow access to alcohol through off-consumption sales, while retaining the suspension of on-consumption trading, which it said “is clearly the best option”.
NTL convener Lucky Ntimane said the devastation of the current ban on alcohol had ripped families apart, consigning dignified families to a life on the streets.
Ntimane said the whole value chain of the alcohol industry was on the brink of collapse.
He said the restaurant sector was bleeding, evidenced by the fact that a company such as Sun International was laying off 14 000 workers while Consol Glass was losing R8 million a day.
“This cannot be allowed to continue, Mr President,” Ntimane said.
“We need our lives back, Mr President. Allow us to trade in a more responsible manner, like we have done in the past.”
The SA Liquor Brandowners Association (Salba) said on Friday that restricting mobility through curfews and curbing gatherings, among others, were recognised globally as most effective in halting the spread of Covid-19.
A study funded by an alcohol-industry group asserted that the ban on alcohol sales and consumption had no effect in reducing trauma unit admissions.
The South African Breweries (SAB) said last week that it would take legal action against this fourth ban in the past 18 months to protect its business and urgently overturn this decision.
SAB said there was no scientific link that the consumption of alcohol raised the risk of contracting the virus, especially if consumed responsibly in the comfort of one’s home.
Meanwhile, the Restaurant Association of SA (Rasa) has demanded the immediate roll-out of the vaccine so it could continue operating restaurants without further threat.
Rasa chief executive Wendy Alberts said their requests for the government to support the industry had been ignored, and more establishments were failing to carry additional debt.
“We are logging more restaurant closures to the list daily, a list that nearly extends past 1 000 restaurants. Restaurants simply cannot survive without alcohol or sit-down patrons or diner time sales,” Alberts said.
“The government needs to answer and compensate for the destruction and suffering we are enduring.”
The Federated Hospitality Association of SA (Fedhasa) called on the government to reconsider extending the current restrictions on allowing sit-down restaurants to operate.
Fedhasa national chair Rosemary Anderson said thousands of livelihoods had already been lost and were hanging in the balance every day that restaurants were closed.
“Balancing lives and livelihoods is an impossible task and we understand that sacrifices have to be made,” Anderson said.
“However, hotels and restaurants are not just a non-essential lifestyle activity which can be switched on and off to stem the spread of Covid-19.
“It is a hospitality bloodbath out there, with no support systems to fall back on.”
Saapa SA said in a statement that a recent paper in the SA Medical Journal “convincingly” found that stopping alcohol sales through the pandemic resulted in a significant drop – between 26 and 49 percent – in the number of unnatural deaths resulting from interpersonal violence, car crashes and suicides.
“It is impossible to ignore the fact that it has strengthened the fight against Covid-19. But is it the only option for reducing the negative impact of alcohol use?”
Saapa SA argued that one intervention in the period June 1 to 11 immediately after the lifting of the first suspension of sales disallowed on-consumption sales. However, licensed outlets were permitted to sell alcohol.
The organisation said on-consumption outlets contribute to the spreading of the virus – these were social gathering points where, once a few drinks were consumed, patrons stopped measures of mask-wearing, social distancing and sanitising.
Alcohol-related trauma injuries caused by violence and car crashes were also more likely to occur from the on-consumption use of alcohol than from off-consumption purchasing for home use, the organisation said.